Is it possible to stay friends with your ex after divorce?
The short answer is yes, it’s possible but that’s not to say it’s easy or uncomplicated. And there are times and situations when it is absolutely not possible or even desirable (see below).
If you have kids, you are bound together for the rest of your lives by the beautiful humans you’ve brought into the world together. This alone is reason enough to want to remain if not friends, then at least cordial. When I divorced, I was determined to keep the conflict away from our kids as much as possible. I wanted an outcome for them that meant they still had a family who could do things as a unit, even if it looked different.
You’ll also have shared friends, so will likely bump into one another at celebrations or events and will perhaps even want to remain connected to each other’s extended family. Being friendly makes all of this easier for everyone involved, especially for your kids.
So HOW do you do it?
IS IT POSSIBLE TO STAY FRIENDS WITH YOUR EX AFTER DIVORCE?
First, set your intention and declare it to your ex. Make it known that you want to be friends as co-parents, rather than harbour animosity.
Make a clear decision that your previous intimate partner relationship is SEPARATE from your relationship as co-parents. Do the work you need to do to reset or reinvent this new relationship.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Everyone needs time and space to grieve and heal. Give each other the space you need to move through the grief process, all the while treating each gently. Don’t expect to be able to spend LONG periods of time together, but do spend time together as a family. Keep it short and sweet, that way you’re less likely to be tripped into old patterns, or annoyed by each other. There’s simply less time for it to happen!
Don’t expect a friendship to be there immediately but behave, from the very beginning, as you would towards a friend. With kindness, courtesy, respect and care. Yes, even if it’s challenging. Even when you want to fire up or be antagonistic. Even when he/she annoys the crap out of you. Remember the old saying, if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.
Set boundaries. A friendship and an intimate partner relationship are different. What you’d say to or share with your partner, you might never disclose to a friend. The pet name you used for him/her in the early days of your relationship is no longer appropriate. Decide what is / is not OK for this new relationship. Steer clear of anything intimate or personal, unless it’s something that directly affects you or your kids and even then, tread lightly.
Agree to a “Code of Silence” around triggering topics, allowing the past to remain in the past. This doesn’t mean you simply “forget” anything hurtful that’s happened between you, but rather you’re actively choosing to deal with it yourself, rather than bring it into your new relationship with your ex. If this means you need to keep your engagement relatively superficial, let it be so at least for the time being.
Work hard on your communication skills, making all of your interactions calm, clear and courteous. Listen with the view to understand what’s being said, rather than simply waiting for your next opportunity to speak. If your ex is having an issue with the children, or at work, listen compassionately as you would with any other friend. Troubleshoot together. Remember, it may be your turn to need a friend to vent to in the future.
CARE, CONCERN, SUPPORT
Show care & concern. Be thoughtful. For example, if your ex is unwell, or you know something big is going on for him / her, reach out to check in. Remember special days – birthdays (his / hers as well as those of e.g. grandparents, aunts and uncles on your ex’s side) and anniversaries of significant events. I’m talking here about say, the anniversary of a death of a parent or similar and not your wedding anniversary. Having said that, my ex and I still acknowledge what we call our “UN-iversary” each year with a simple text message.
Help & support one another. Be a co-parenting TEAM rather than flying solo. Involve your ex in decisions and discussions about what’s going on for your kids. Ask for and offer help and support. Share information, stories and photos about what’s happening in the lives of your kids and encourage your ex to do the same. Being inclusive, open and inviting sets you up to be friendly towards one another.
Is it possible to stay friends with your ex after divorce? (cont.)
NOT ALL BAD
Remember your past, acknowledging that it was not all bad. You liked, even loved each other once upon a time. Remind each other occasionally of the “in jokes” or that favourite holiday, restaurant, or hike up a mountain. Keep a few photos on display of your ex with you and the kids, showing them (the kids and the ex) that you still honour your ex’s part in your life and the lives of your kids.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
You’re still a family, albeit one that no longer shares a single home. Be focused on the future, rather than stuck in the past. Again, understand and accept that you will remain connected by your kids, forever. Divorce aside, you’re still a family. There will be significant events that your kids will want BOTH of you to attend, from school, sporting, dance, music, birthdays, graduations, weddings. Being friendly – even friends – makes this much more enjoyable for everyone.
WHEN IT WON’T WORK
For many couples, being friends after divorce is simply too hard and I am certainly not advocating it or saying it’s possible for everyone.
Obviously, anything that makes a friendship between you and your ex physically or emotionally unsafe is a red flag – abuse, DV, substance dependency, narcissism, criminal behaviour. If you wouldn’t be friends with this person in any other context, it won’t work with your ex.
If you rush the “friendship” afterwards, you may not have given yourself the time to grieve the loss of your marriage / relationship. Trying to establish a friendship without giving yourself the time and space to move through the stages of grief necessary to deeply heal, can actually make the process longer and more painful.
It’s holding you back, limiting your capacity to prioritise yourself, or move forward. Maintaining a friendship with your ex takes commitment and energy. If that leaves you drained, unable to fully take care of yourself, forge new friendships and connections, and keeping you stuck, it’s not viable (yet).
You may not have been true friends in the first place OR your friendship and respect for one another has been eroded by your relationship breakdown. If this is the case for you, real friendship may not be possible and rather, a parallel parenting model the best outcome.
Sometimes, taking the intimate, romantic, couple connection out of your relationship liberates you both, allowing you the freedom to become real friends. But if you and your ex are not quite at the point of being friends post-divorce, don’t give up. Stay focused on the intention you set and don’t be discouraged. It takes time to heal from divorce and it’s the healing that opens the door to a new relationship, a friendship with your ex.